Operation Oryx: Postscript

The only smoke that hangs over Strupnic today rises from chimney pots and bonfires. The only tracked vehicles you see in fields and streets are Zendor 600 and 800 tractors. It’s hard to believe this village of cooing doves, dozing mutts, and carefree kids was, forty years ago, the place where the Podrabian invasion began to unravel.

(Operation Oryx was an open-to-all game of Combat Mission: Cold War set in 1981. The commenter-controlled Zendoran forces successfully ambushed a column of Podrabian vehicles bound for Zečin, the Zendoran capital. Each turn covered one minute of WeGo action. For a scenario outline and summaries of all thirty turns, click here).

The village has changed very little in the four decades since ‘The Ambush’. The flood waters have receded, of course.

And north of the Lesov’s place, there’s an imposing roadside war memorial. The monument’s T-62, one of seven KOed by Trajanov’s tank trashers on that historic day, sits atop a mound constructed with rubble from the old Bile Ribnica Dam.

A sign in the lay-by adjacent to the memorial encourages travellers to pay a visit to the nearby ‘Ambush Museum’. Funded and run by Viktor and Branko’s half-brother, Dalibor, who, keen to do his bit, was hurrying back from Australia when the battle occurred, this tourist attraction occupies what was once the agri merchant’s yard.

Outdoor exhibits include Tereza the T-72, a TOW Mutt, an M60A1, and one of the famous ‘Qatabi’ T-55s. Inside, visitors can read about the seventeen Zen heroes who fell on June 15th, inspect a selection of relevant firearms, see the pin-studded map Viktor used to brief Major Trajanov before the battle, and – assuming they’re willing to part with a shiny Euro – have a go on an Arma-based TOW simulator.

The museum claims to own the RPG-7 launcher used by the Lesovs to destroy two tanks during the fighting. I say ‘claims’ because there’s a RPG-7 launcher over the mantelpiece in The Traveller’s Rest hotel that also professes to be Milan Senior/Junior’s rocket dispenser!

While the provenance of some Ambush relics may be disputed, show me a historian who doesn’t believe the Zens won a…

….at Strupnic, and I’ll show you a charlatan shilling for the Podrabian regime.

Only five of the thirty enemy vehicles involved in the engagement, survived, and just one of this quintet (the PT-76B in the north) escaped entirely unscathed.

Examining the battlefield post-bellum and sans Fog of War, we find that the T-55 that settled Muttley’s hash, not only lost its commander, Oblomov, in the process, but also suffered serious track damage.

Interestingly, the other surviving T-55 also ended the battle without a TC and with compromised mobility. It seems likely these wounds were the result of 60mm mortar bomb detonations. Circa Turn 26, our Light Mortar Team pounded the Vostok Memorial area when the T-55 was in the vicinity.

Clicking on the T-80’s spanner icon reveals the precise results of the Patton’s eleventh-hour APDS shot – slight damage to optics, radio, smoke launchers, and track. In the circumstances, should the ‘veteran’ Pod tank commander have stood his ground? Possibly, but the fact that his steed was a demonstrator on loan from the Soviets, and not cleared for actual warfighting, may have influenced Shinkarev’s behaviour.

Stopping the column cost Trajanov two TOW Mutts, a T-72, a BRDM, and around a third of his men. Your GM felt these losses were, in the circumstances, relatively light, and a just reward for tactics that, on the whole, utilised terrain and weaponry, and balanced caution and aggression, superbly.

Could the Comment Commanders have achieved more with their off-map mortars? Would the Dragon team have been more useful north of the M2? Possibly, but CM battles aren’t chess games and unless you were there on June 15th, and experienced first-hand the uncertainty, the trepidation, and the weight of expectation, it’s hard to criticise with any conviction.

^ KOed Pod vehicles on or close to the M2. Labels indicate the turn the vehicle was destroyed and the destroyer (A = Alpha, B = Bravo, D = Droopy, L = Lesovs, M = Muttley,  P = APC, T = Tereza)

Gong time! This year’s golden skull-and-crossbones – the medal for the Most Destructive Friendly Unit – has to go to TOW Team ‘Droopy’. They had to wait twelve turns to bag their first AFV but once they’d started slaying they couldn’t stop. Dispatched to the map’s north-western corner by a bold/visionary Comment Commander, they were well-placed to deal with targets travelling down the M2, the unexpected PT-76B attack, and enemy vehicles seeking cover behind the embankment. By the time the clock froze for the final time, their kill tally consisted of three T-62s, two PT-76Bs, one BMP-1, and eleven Pod grunts/crewmen.

Tereza the T-72A earns the silver skull-and-crossbones for neutralising, during an intense seven minute spree (turn 16 to 23), one T-62, one T-55, a Shilka, three Ural trucks, and seven dismounts. But for some fancy marksmanship by one of the New Farm riflemen, this total would almost certainly have been larger. Obviously, Scooby warrants a mention in the footnotes for this award. Without a willing, thoughtfully waypointed taxi, Viktor, Simona, and Georgi would never have reached their mount.

Deciding which of our combatants should get the Cross of King Petar – Zendora’s highest award for gallantry – wasn’t easy. Our three recon teams did sterling work in the centre of the village, and paid a very high price for their efforts (A third of the Zen casualties were scouts).

Inevitably their combined kills tally (16 x infantry, 1 x MT-LB, 1 x BMP-1) doesn’t fully reflect their contribution as trailblazers, intel gatherers, and side-thorns.

Alpha, Bravo and Charlie all made my CoKP shortlist but ultimately lost out to the Lesovs, the father and son team whose inexperience, health issues (Milan Snr), and inauspicious starting position didn’t prevent them causing havoc in some seriously dangerous areas of the battlefield.

Lesov Senior was mortally wounded tackling T-62s, his son died taking on a T-80. Between them they accounted for a PT-76B, a T-62, a truck, and seven AK clutchers before passing posthumously into national folklore.

Unsurprisingly, the Pods were keen to forget the debacle at Strupnic. It’s said Trajanov’s opposite number ended up toiling in a stibnite mine, and the only PA unit decorated for its actions that day was the RPG team that KOed Viktor’s tank.

Time for the final apposite 1981 tune. Medals will be pinned to proud chests to the strains of…


  1. What a poignant tribute. No joke, Tim, my eyes got a bit moist there, which I think is a testament to your sublime writing.

    The Lesovs are much deserved recipients. And although we lost many good men out there, it’s true that 25 out of 30, now quietly gathering leaves in the Zendoran sun, is a pretty damn good result.

    Congratulations all.

  2. Tim, as a long time lurker, both here and over on Rock Paper Shotgun, I finally had to register just to leave a(nother) thank you for this article (and others like this one), so exquisitely writen. I’ve never read a post-mortem so filled with sentiment and perspective as this one – unlike the write-ups/videos one usually comes across, which look at what happened in a purely analitical, “outside the game”, way, you presented your analysis from inside the game, creating a beautifull illusion of historicity. What a pleasure it was to spend my time reading that!

    It’s a testament to your skill as a writer that although I own Combat Mission: Cold War, it’s only through reading your tales that I find the pleasure in wargaming that was the reason for buying the game in the first place.

    (also, as a New Order fan, that closing song resonates mightily)

  3. Very much looking forward to the first THC meetup, where we shall gather together in The Traveller’s Rest and raise a glass to the memory of the Lesovs,

    A wonderful write-up Tim.

  4. Morale +5. Thanks for the kind words, everyone. Brainstorming for next year’s PBC CM game begins tomorrow!

  5. Thanks Tim for an amazing debrief post, this was way more than I was expecting. Thank you for going the extra mile yet again.

    In previous years I was happy to read along with the “real” commanders, and last year I may have asked a question or two, but as this year’s run progressed I felt a duty to give a few orders. Initially to help fill the gaps, more recently because I was seriously invested in the characters you/we created. I won’t tell you how long I spent staring at the overhead maps trying to figure out whether the green blob I was hoping to hide behind was going to result in a tank comically trying to hide behind a slender sapling.

    I honestly had no idea what I was doing most of the time, and do wish I had received a bit more feedback (eg. “Stop dithering with the mortarmen, GET THEM OUT NOW”, or “Have you considered NOT putting our M113 in the line of fire like that?”), so I appeal to fellow commenters to get involved in any way, it makes it even more fun.

    Roll on next year’s game, I cannot wait! Well played all.

  6. Well done everyone! Given the odds, I don’t think we could have done much better. 25 out of 30 enemy vehicles KOed, and 4 damaged. A big thank you to everyone who contributed orders and and advice. And of course a huge thank you to Tim for making Monday mornings so exciting! I’ll be counting down the days till next year! A last word to people who watched from the sidelines. Please don’t be scared to join in. If a numpty like me can do it, anyone can!

  7. One of the most clever things I have seen on the internet. The whole concept is outstanding. The turn-by-turn narrative, the participation by your subscribers and passersby, and the entire experience is just brilliant. Plus the writing is powerful. You are an incredibly talented man Tim.

  8. What a bittersweet tale the Lesovs provided. Zendoran heroes, both of them.

    The attention to detail that goes into this series is marvelous. Like that slight map modification to make a mound for the war memorial or the tie-in of Quatab. (in an ongoing effort to raise the Tim Stone cinematic universe to new heights of fame)

    Regarding the scenario, I think we did as well as could be expected. Being in the thick of it, you kind of loose perspective, but that highway of death screenshot makes clear how devastating the ambush really wash. And I hardly realized how much damage Tereza had done in the short time she had been active.

    To my commenters in arms, thank you very much, it was a pleasure. To the cheering crowd, why not try your own hand at this next time? The only way to loose is not to play.

  9. Another lurker from the peanut gallery here, well done to all combatants, and superbly written up Tim

  10. NeoZeolite, g948ng, KSBearski, Pistol Pete, SminkyBazzA, alison… thank you.

    While this year’s game is still fresh in the memory, does anyone have any suggestions for next year’s? CM title? Rules tweaks? Presentational/organisational changes? I’m all ears.

    Occasionally I toy with the idea of running a PvP play-by-comment CM game – two commenter-controlled teams battling each other – but I’ve yet to figure out a practical approach.

    • Well, seeing as you’ve asked…

      (I appreciate the following will probably all require technical assistance)
      * Option for turn-end reminder emails to encourage participation – eg, 24 hours left to place orders
      * A visual guide to how far particular units might travel/see (I imagine this would have to be a crowdsourced meta game!)
      * Interactive grid map – tap/hover to see the coordinates for easier order planning
      * A “quick review” stack of the unit position maps – like a flip book of all turns so far

      * The mix of planned reinforcements, surprise arrivals, and the late-game withdrawal order, all work really well to engage different players I thought
      * It was very hard to judge LoS – it’s probably a lot of effort but I found the “over-the-shoulder” screenshots really helpful for judging what things looked like on the ground (vs from the overhead map)
      * A bit more detail about the current state of units at the beginning of each turn would be helpful, especially if they’re still carrying out a previous order, eg. “M60 hunting to 97,1,1” – I suppose we could go back and review last week’s orders, but I am le tired.

      * I can’t recall if the switch from two turns a week to just one was for gameplay reasons, or perhaps for your own sanity, but I wonder if it’s worth doing some kind of poll to determine what people would prefer in the weeks before the next game?

      * I have an idea about that but need to have a think about the practicalities… will be in touch! Might tie in with some of the above too…

    • I can’t see how you’d provide PVP without needing twice the work on the write-ups – and even then, almost impossible to prevent cheating.

      Then there’s the multi-week commitment required from each team; people would drop out, especially if one team got the upper hand. It can be hard enough getting people to stay in a 40 minute online interactive match!

      That may however be something to explore: Pick a real-time game with half hour battles, organise two teams online at the same time, and do an AAR of the event over the course of a few posts.

      Needs to be a game with full record/replay ability though, for those carefully considered screenshots.

    • I also cannot stop dreaming of a PvP version of these yearly CM scraps, but find it quite difficult to suggest a solution how to do it smootly from an organisational point of view without laying a huge burden on you. An even bigger burden, that is.

      Whatever the solution, it would require secure communication. Which kind of beats the whole spectator sport angle. Surely, you can split the teams and have them plan in separate discord channels, for instance, but I suspect seeing the comment commanders plan and make grandiose, sweeping predictions only to have them humbled/vindicated by the actual events is part of the attraction.

      You could have a regular player faction and an OpFor. A designated volunteer or two, who you trust not to spoil him-/herself by reading the articles. And maybe scribble down a few notes regarding their thought process which you could publish after the game. But that discrepancy in C&C would tilt the board significantly and would have to be accounted for in scenario design or other handicap. Maybe split the opposition in two detachments, one volunteer each and not allow any communication between the parts. Or just once every 5 turns.

      Maybe one could work with some delay between issuing orders and publishing the comments, but that sounds like it could become very confusing very fast. Like `this is turn 20 and here is the communication of the zendoran players from three turns ago` level of confusing.

      None of these ideas is well thought out, as you can probably tell. But I will keep on dreaming. Or we could just do some Kriegsspiel.

    • PVP is an interesting idea. The only way I can see it working is if you have contact with an AntiTim in a different dimension (or at least a very different corner of the internet) with his own audience. Each set of commanders would make their commands as per normal, not realizing that they were actually playing against another human team. Only at the end would the gimmick be revealed, then each team would get a surprise 25 more posts to read through to see how the other side did! It’d only work once, of course.

      I think the main thing that would improve the state of affairs for commanders is a status indicator for each unit to make clear if they are busy moving or packing up or doing something else at the end of each turn. Filling that in appears to be manual operation for you at this point, so the trick would be to find some way to automate the work. I’m not sure if CM save games or PBEM files could somehow be decompiled and parsed to just spit out a list of units, but that could save you a bit of time while also giving the commanders a better sense of which units are ready for new orders.

      A gameplay idea I think could be interesting is only giving us over-the-shoulder views. Especially if we are playing a scenario set in a pre-drone, pre-GPS era, it could be interesting to only get an updated overhead view on turns where one of our friendly air support units radios in their observations. It might make the game feel a bit more tense, something like ArmA. You could still use cinematic “cut scenes” for the highlights, but otherwise keep us in the dark about exactly which map grid everyone is on. Of course, it could also make the game much more frustrating and thus decrease participation. It might need some test runs first – I imagine it would work better for some maps than others. Or if we are doing modern era with drones and GPS, then you could make losing the overhead view part of the scenario, maybe something knocked out the comms for a few turns and we need to get to some objective to bring it back up. Stuff like Trajanov’s meeting with the locals on this year’s campaign was great. It gives it a bit more of a narrative than just making it about abstract maneuver and attrition.

    • presentation suggestion: getting the lay of the land at the start of the mission always takes me a few weeks, and guessing sightlines is a challenge throughout. Filling each report with screenshots of views would be cumbersome, but a reference page full of ‘views of strupnic’ would have been helpful to me.

      Multiplayer: the only way I can think of making it work is for discussions and orders to be given on separate secure channels (eg. discord). To keep the drama for spectators, I would give only six days for orders, and then publish those discussions the day before the turn results themselves. So a ‘Turn 1:orders’ post would be followed the next day by ‘turn 1: results’.

      • I meant to add that this would give each team perfect information on the other’s disposition, making the game play more like chess than a standard CCM. If you wanted to preserve fog of war, I think you would need to run the whole game in secret and then publish the results sequentially in the aftermath. That sounds like an awful lot of work, though.

  11. Many thanks Tim, this was a blast as always! My participation fell away for the last few months, but that was due to the birth of a new child (tinybottom is doing well) leaving me a wee bit time poor. As ever, the quality of your writing and the ambition of the scenario surpassed expectations and was a treat to follow, even from the sidelines.

    Also, chapeau to the commanders. The situation at turn zero looked pretty bleak – I didn’t for one second expect such a resounding success.

  12. I think my biggest disappointment with this coming to an end is that I’ll miss heading to this website on mondays for a second dose of Tim’s posts.

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